BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Doctors say it's a miracle he survived, but once he did come to, there were more questions than answers. What happened to Tim Hodge is so rare that it's controversial exactly how it happens.
"Walking in there and just seeing him with all the tubes, it was just horrifying," Vicki Hodge recalled. The moment her husband almost died will be forever ingrained in her mind.
"I had tubes in my head draining fluid off of my head," Tim Hodge said, remembering his ordeal 10 years ago. It all started with a home improvement project.
"I decided I would just crawl under the house and replace all the metal water lines with PVC," he said.
But the tight squeeze and awkward positions left Hodge with a sore neck and a headache that wouldn't go away. A coworker at Oakes Toyota in Natchez encouraged him to visit a chiropractor, something he'd never done before.
"He put me on the table, rolled my head around, popped it to the left, tried to pop it to the right. It wouldn't do," Hodge said. "He rolled it around, and on the third time he did it really hard, and something in my head actually popped."
As Hodge slid off the chiropractor's table, he only remembers the room spinning. It would be his last memory for nearly a month, until he woke up from a coma 19 days later.
Hodge suffered a massive stroke caused by vertebral artery dissection (VAD). That's a tear in the lining of the artery that supplies blood to the brain. The tear can then cause a clot, which can stop blood flow all together.
"They called me 'The Miracle Man," Hodge emotionally recalled. "They said that, uh, that I was a miracle because I should not have survived."
Sadly, those miracles don't always come.
"He was still at the chiropractor and he became violently ill, vomiting and an excruciating headache, and they actually called an ambulance from the chiropractor," said Carolyn Booker. Her nephew, Charles Booker, Jr. died in June 2007.
Booker had married the love of his life just two weeks prior. The newlyweds honeymooned in Mexico, where Charles celebrated his 35th birthday. Days later, back in Louisiana, he too visits a chiropractor for a headache that just won't go away, along with back pain. Like Hodge, Booker also left the office in an ambulance.
"The autopsy showed that he did have that dissection in the artery, and the most common cause of that is a manipulation of the neck," Booker said. Charles had also suffered a massive stroke.
The chiropractor who treated Hodge retired soon after the incident. The one who treated Booker is also no longer practicing. The Chiropractic Association of Louisiana referred 9News to Dr. Charles Herring, a Baton Rouge chiropractor with 44 years of experience.
"It's still very difficult to establish a very solid foundation that says that there is enough evidence now that says that cervical manipulation can produce vertebral artery dissection," Herring explained.
The handful of studies done on this condition conclude that stroke after visiting a chiropractor is rare, ranging from one in every 4 million neck manipulations, to one in every 400,000. They also point out that vertebral artery dissection can be caused by sneezing, coughing, or any situation where the neck is put in an abnormal position. Studies sometimes found correlation between stroke and a visit to the chiropractor, but not causation. Many in the industry often suggest the strokes in affected victims would have happened anyway, regardless where the patient sought treatment.
"We feel like, yes, it was probably caused because of the crawling under the house," Hodge said. "But we don't feel like it would have happened if I'd gone to a medical doctor and told them what I was experiencing."
Hodge, Booker, and Herring all agree that the general public, chiropractors and ER staff should be more aware of the warning signs of VAD, similar to those of stroke: dizziness, double vision, difficulty swallowing or speaking, difficulty walking, intense nausea, numbness on one side of the body, and confusion. If one or more of those symptoms appear suddenly alongside an intense headache, you should call 911 immediately.
"We would like for chiropractors to be open with their patients that this is a possibility, and patients should be able to sign something that they know that they're informed and they consent to the treatment," Booker said.
No such requirements are in place, and Booker believes instances of stroke following chiropractic adjustment are under-reported. Dr. Herring, who was not associated with either of these cases, advises finding a chiropractor you trust.
"At the end of the day, we have to explain to the patient that there are rare instances where this occurs, and we try to explain to them if those things are taking place in their system, then they may have a stroke. But we don't believe from the literature that it's related to the manipulation itself," he said.
Hodge and Booker hope sharing their stories will save other lives, by helping others to recognize the signs of VAD and seek proper treatment.